Florian Langhammer is a Vienna-based entrepreneur who founded Collectors Agenda as a cross-medial art platform designed for inclusion and participation in the often prohibitive art world. Florian is also the publisher of the print medium The Collectors Chronicle which appears several times a year to coincide with international art fairs and biennials. We met Florian in Collectors Agenda’s downtown offices to speak with him among others about challenges and successes of his venture, trends for experiencing art in the digital age, and what relationships between business and the art world.
Hello Florian. Congratulations on your successful Collectors Agenda project! You seem to have had quite the ride so far. For those who are not familiar with Collectors Agenda, can you give us your elevator pitch?
Collectors Agenda is conceived as an cross-medial art platform. We create timeless insightful stories with much-discussed artists and other actors of the art world in an easy-to-read copy style, that avoids the typical ’art speak’. Comparable to a perpetual calendar, our stories are written up in a timeless fashion. So we are creating a constant stream of stories, pooled on our website in two main editorial formats – In the Studio and Collector Stories.
What are you trying the achieve with your venture?
Our objective is to broaden the appeal of art discourse beyond the inner circles of the art scene. In other words: to make more people feel comfortable and develop a liking to join in art conversations. We make a conscious effort to be inclusive for people who are newcomers to the art scene, such as the more random museum-goer, by what we write about and how we write it. Few people dare, or have the opportunity, to visit artists in their studio, so we do it on their behalf, asking simple but informative questions. Along the way they become more familiar with, and become more proficient in discussing new artistic positions.
Passionate art entreneur Florian Langhammer.
On which basis was the idea for Collectors Agenda born?
Right now, a new generation of art enthusiasts is emerging and looking to discover the art scene for themselves. These newcomers, at least a certain share among them, represent a future segment of discerning art collectors. But this new generation thinks and feels different about art and values experiential aspects more than discourse. Unlike established collectors, they spend as much time online as they do in the physical space of galleries and museums.
What reader base do you attract?
Our reader base of is composed of the entire spectrum of the art world, including artists, art critics, gallery and museum professionals, journalists, as well as established and aspiring collectors. But, unlike specialist art magazines whose editorial focus is more of a specialist and discursive one, we count many art enthusiasts from the creative industries, for example from the fields of design, architecture and fashion, among our readers.
Looking at Collectors Agenda’s journey since its founding year, 2015, what have been the highs and lows?
There were no real lows in the sense of major throw-backs, but it did require a lot of patience and endurance to build a profile among the landscape of art journals and magazines and to get on the radar of galleries, art institutions, art fairs and so on. You need the acceptance among the inner circles of the art scene to be taken serious. After all, we always wanted to attract both art insiders and the newcomers. There is a lot to learn about the rules and codes of the art scene and it takes a while to move comfortably within the scene. After almost four years it is now very satisfying to see our efforts are taking fruit. Today, we are receiving a lot of requests from players in the art market to discuss cooperations or pointing us to interesting artistic positions to be profiled, and we have earned a presence at major art fairs such as Art Cologne and more recent fairs like viennacontemporary, next to the established art media.
You not only have an online presence with Collectors Agenda, but also a print issue titled The Collectors Chronicle.
Only a couple of months after we launched Collectors Agenda as an online platform, we developed a kind of tabloid-format print medium, which we now publish several times a year. It is distributed free of charge on the occasion of important art fairs such as Art Basel, LISTE, Art Cologne, biennials such as the Venice Biennace, art festivals and so on. The majority of content draws content from our online journal.
What’s the rationale behind having a free physical magazine to complement your web journal?
At first it was the idea of creating something that would raise our profile as an online magazine. Rather than handing out flyers we wanted to convince by content. Our first issue was released for distribution at Art Basel in 2016. A bit cheekily we had titled it ”Issue 01”, not knowing whether there would ever be a second issue. But it was so well received that we felt encouraged to carry on. We have just published Issue 11 on the occasion of the 58th art biennial in Venice and there is another one coming up for the Berlin Art Week and viennacontemporary. We see the combination of print and digital working very well for us. Clearly print is not dead as some might proclaim.
Speaking of digital versus physical, have you seen any trends when it comes to reading about art? Will art fans want digital or physical platforms, or both?
I feel that both media exist in their own right and they serve different needs. Digital channels such as Instagram tend to be more about fast consumption, determined by visual impulses. Not every artist’s work will meet with equal success in social media. There is art that is visually more impactful and therefore more suitable for Instagram, which of course is unfair to a lot of art out there that does without the visual flash but may be richer in concept, which is not to say that visually appealing art may not also have a quality beneath the surface. When it comes to actually reading about art in depth I feel it depends on the age group. The younger generation is comfortable spending time reading an article on screen. But I feel that there is still an attraction about picking up a physical publication and read through it in quiet.
Do you think that maintaining a dual presence will be important for you in the future?
Yes absolutely. I feel it is important to offer an access to editorial content via different channels, as reader habits and preferences are so different. Ultimately we are a digital platform of course, but our print medium can entice readers to read up more online. With every printed story we provide a bit.ly link to read the full story online. A cross-medial presence also gives us more authority, securing a stronger presence with media partners.
Do you think that the trends of not only reading about art, but in experiencing it, will change over time?
I think it is one thing to learn about new artists and artworks from Instagram, apps, or art platforms, and another of having that immediate moment standing in front of a work of art. I think nothing will ever replace that. Art, at least for me, is also about deceleration and contemplation. Maybe that is an old-fashioned view, but I feel that a moment of contemplation is anchored in the physical space.
What’s your view of complementing the physical experience of art with digital tools?
I think the new digital tools and channels for experiencing art add something really valuable. They cross borders and make art from all over the world more accessible. I think this new influx of stimulus is fantastic. At the same time this new global transparency may put extra pressure on the creators of art, as they are struggling to develop a distinctive practice among such a broad landscape of available art where it is becoming harder and harder to be noticed.
How do you think we will go about to experience and consume art in 2 years?
I don’t know what it will be like. I just feel that we are still waiting for a truly powerful app that provides us with a relevant and truly personalised art experience. Many apps promise ”personal” or ”curated” views of available art. I always find such apps falling short of that promise, simply because there is no perfect algorithm that discerns what kind of art appeals to a person. Art is hard to put into boxes and filters such as ”photography”, ”painting”, ”minimalist” or ”figurative” just miss the point. Other apps ask me about what artists I like and try to offer me ”similar art” on that basis. It’s impossible to decide on such parameters what art attracts me. In fact I don’t even know what will attract me until I see it.
Let’s head back to your venture. Besides your online and print issues you offer limited-release artworks…
We offer limited editions and work series in exclusive collaboration with artists. The concept of an edition is to produce a multiple of a piece of art that is numbered and signed by the artist, which makes it an original while placing it into a much more affordable price range than a unique piece. The lower the number, the greater the value of each individual piece. We felt that an own edition offer follows in the tracks of providing easier access to art for more people. Of course we haven’t invented the principle of editions, but we try to make a difference in that market by focusing on value, limiting our editions to very low numbers such as 10 or 15, or preferably even offer work series of unique pieces or with an individual character.
How can people buy art works from Collectors Agenda?
First of all you can find and read up on all editions and work series on our website and we have new aspiring but also more established collectors from across Europe, the United States, and once even from Australia, enquiring by email and buying from us without having ever seen the work. But there is also a big proportion of people who want to see the physical work, which maybe brings us back to our earlier conversation about the trade-off between virtual and “brick-and-mortar” art experiences. So you find us at art fairs with a booth such as Art Cologne or viennacontemporary, typically in the section for media alongside other media who have editions.
Besides Collectors Agenda, you also run a successful brand consulting agency. What trends can you see when it comes to businesses using art as branding tool?
A lot of brands associate themselves with art one way or another these days. The degree of sincerity and long-term dedication varies however. Some brands simply seek to enhance their image by injecting a dash of creative or artistic flair. I would call this more an act of appropriation. Others act out of a more sincere effort to assume cultural responsibility as a corporate citizen and have shown a long-standing commitment to supporting artistic production and cultural activities such as BMW or they have formed significant art foundations or private institutions themselves. To some degree the art world is banking on such corporate patrons in the face of decreasing public budgets for art and culture. Of course these corporations are not doing it for pure altruism. Art loving people, and especially collectors, represent an affluent audience that is receptive to products from design, fashion, or luxury items.
You are based in Austria, but have lived in a number of different countries, including France, Britain, and the USA. Can you see any differences when it comes to the relationship between business and art?
I think in Anglo-American culture there is a natural acceptance of businesses and brands participating in society. The acceptance of brands as part of daily life is relatively high, and it seems to me that the involvement from the private sector in art and culture has therefore been received more naturally. In many European countries public funding has been responsible for art and culture to thrive. That is now changing. More and more we see governments cut back on funding which promotes cultural activity or review concessions such as a lower VAT on art purchases. So we may be looking at closer relationships between the commercial and the cultural sector.
How important is art for not only business, but for the people who are doing the business?
I think art can be a conversation starter and definitely something over which people can bond and form a relationship. It’s the same with many things, often it is sports over which people connect. Once a common basis is formed, people move on to other topics or whatever is on their agenda. With art it can be the same.
What’s your home like when it comes to art?
Of course we have art in our home and enjoy living with it every day. It would be strange if otherwise! There is always a bit of an argument going on between my partner and me whether to hang more or less art at home. He is more for leaving white space on the walls whereas I am more the one to fill the walls to the last bit. (laughs) So we are not putting up all the works we own at the same time.
Do you have a particular concept in building your collection?
I wouldn’t say that we are particularly structured in what we buy or that we have no concrete agenda. So it would be a bit presumptuous to speak about a collection. The range spans from drawing to photography, painting and sculpture. We are of course invested to some extend in Vienna’s local art scene and a lot of the works we own are from emerging artists living and working in Vienna. But we also have works from emerging and established artists outside Austria. In almost all cases, we have had a chance of building a personal relationship with the respective artist – quite often through a studio visit for Collectors Agenda. And it is of course a privilege to be collaborating with so many artists on edition projects. Often one risks of becoming one’s best customer though. (laughs) But of course we would never initiate a project for whose work we do not admire.
Do you have any Scandinavian or Nordic artists in your collection?
My partner and I actually have a soft spot for the Nordics. We love the low key and friendly attitude and affinity to design and nature. This prompted us to develop a dedicated editorial format for Collectors Agenda, titled Nordic Notes, which steers the attention on artistic practice from the Nordic countries. In the process we got to know and made friends with several artists from Denmark, Finland and Sweden such as Asger Dybvad Larsen, Toni R. Toivonen or Jacob Dahlgren, from whom we own works.
At your space downtown Vienna you also organise exhibitions?
Yes, exactly. Adjacent to our office space we run a small showroom in which we organize exhibitions of new edition projects, usually as solo shows. Sometimes we also invite artists to having a show with us outside our own edition program. We share the space, an old Viennese apartment from the turn of the century, with a young gallery named Zeller van Almsick, who focus on working with younger artists, which provides some good synergies for both of us in terms of attracting visitors and new people interested in art. With our exhibition program we are often introducing the work of artists from abroad for the first time to the art public in Austria. This was the case for example with Danish-artist Asger Dybvad Larsen or now, September 2019, with Finish artist Toni R. Toivonen, who have earned already a lot of attention in their home country. Sometimes this leads to new opportunities for the artists in Austria. Of course nothing better than that could happen if we can make a modest contribution to raising the profile of the artists we work with.